Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound

We spent the last few weeks of our short season doing a big fly-by loop from Homer, along the Kenai Peninsula on the coast of the Gulf of Alaska, into and around Prince William Sound, and then back to Homer.

The Kenai Peninsula is a gorgeous area, full of dramatic mountain peaks, glaciers, and lush fjords. We spent our first night anchored in calm Takoma Cove, then headed for Norwestern Fjord.

Once well up into the fjord, you come to a bar with a navigable edge on the right side leading up into the glaciated areas. We got right up in there, as far as we could safely navigate with the icebergs floating all around us, slipping past several glaciers along the way, up to the terminal moraine of the Northwestern Glacier. 

The pic above shows a day boat observing the glacier, so you can get some perspective.

And below is a shot very near where we anchored for the night, on a small shelf behind a smallish island surrounded by glaciers. 

I was convinced I had a good cruising guide to this area, and spent hours as we made our way along the Kenai looking for this book. Finally we concluded I must have just imagined bringing it aboard. Back in Homer as we were readying the Buffalo for her winter rest, I found the guide stuffed in a basement bin. Gratifying as it was to finally locate it, we felt like idiots for having bumbled along “blindly” when we had a treasure trove of useful info sitting neglected in a bin. I discovered that our cruising guide specifically cautioned against anchoring in the spot we had chosen. Oh, well. Actually we were glad not to have missed it. We were super careful, using our forward looking sonar to identify any hazards, and it was relatively shallow with calm weather so we didn’t have to lay out much scope (anchor chain.) We felt safe, and were able to enjoy our cocktail hour on the upper deck while viewing the glaciers and icebergs, and listening to the snap-crackle-pop they make in the quiet stillness of a summer’s late afternoon. Priceless!

Speaking of cocktails, we had some fun, and most certainly some inexpert trial and error, collecting a very tiny iceberg (actually the small ones are called growlers, or bergy bits.) Stan sidled along one, and I stood on the stern with a net and a boat hook and tried to break off a chunk and pull it aboard. Pro tip: blocks of ice floating in the water are far heavier than they appear!

This ice is 12,000 years old, super compressed, and does take very long to melt. Perfect!

We timed our exit the next day with the tide, for high slack water. That bar can be a real hazard of standing waves and roiling seas if the conditions aren’t good. We were lucky to have it so easy.

Our next anchorage was in Hogg Bay, at the entrance to Prince William Sound. I was particularly excited, as the Sound has been kind of a holy grail for me in terms of Alaska cruising. Sheltered water, lots of secluded anchorages, wildlife, waterfalls, glaciers, what’s not to like?

Unfortunately, this is where things went a bit south on us. 

The pic above was taken while anchored in Japan, not Alaska, but it shows the forward part of our bow. The windlass is a powerful motorized device used to spool and unspool the chain from its location below in the chain locker. It’s how we deploy and retrieve our heavy ground tackle. And when I say heavy? Our anchor weighs 225 lbs, and our 330 feet of 7/16” chain weighs nearly 8 lbs per foot. We had around 230 feet of chain deployed which weighed around 1840 lbs. In other words, over 2000 lbs lying on the bottom of the anchorage, holding us in place.

When we were ready to depart the anchorage the next morning, our windlass was not. Emphatically not. Stan went into the chain locker underneath, to reset the breaker and watch when I turned it on. No movement, but he did have a whole alarming fireworks display of sparks shooting out of the windlass motor. 

We carry a LOT of spares aboard the Buffalo, including a spare Maxwell windlass motor. Great! But there was no way for Stan, with or without my assistance, to safely get that heavy motor installed above his head in the dark, cramped space of the chain locker. The town of Whittier, in the northwest corner of PWS, was the closest place where they might be able to help us out. Just a day hop away… once we figured out how to get that 2000 lbs off the ocean floor.

Stan thought he had a workable solution, using the power winch that I labeled in the pic above. The power winch is for line (rope) not chain, but our Buffalo has convenient bolt holes positioned at various points around the deck, and heavy eye bolts that screw into them. (I labeled some random bolt holes in a later pic.) So he screwed an eye bolt into a bolt hole just in front of our house window at the very aft of the foredeck, then attached a pulley to it. He tied a line to the anchor chain, ran it up to the pulley and back to the power winch. That allowed us to retrieve maybe 20 feet of chain or so at a time, then feed that chain down into the locker and repeat.

Ash, by the way, was thoroughly uninterested in the whole endeavor, and hid in the washing machine in protest.

The pulley system worked well for a couple of cycles, before Stan (luckily for us!) noticed the eye bolt was bending under the load of the chain, before an additional nasty surprise happened. 

So we had to instead run a line all the way aft from the chain, past the foredeck…

Along the starboard side…

And along the aft deck to a second power winch located way back there. 

This did work, and we slowly and carefully were able to pull up our chain and anchor and finally get underway. 

The little harbor in Whittier was too small for a boat our size to even enter and turn around, so we found a shelf across the bay that was suitable and dropped the anchor. Deploying the anchor doesn’t actually require the windlass power, though it’s disconcerting to just unlock everything and step out of the way as all that heavy chain screams out of the locker and over the bow at breakneck speed, and even more disconcerting for me to watch Stan try to stop that runaway process without losing a hand!

We found some nice and capable marine technicians who boated over to us and got our new motor installed, tested it for 3 seconds each way, and bid us a fond farewell. Sadly though, the fat lady had yet to sing; when we tried operating it “for real,” we found it was barely lugging along, not healthy, at all. So Stan worked his diagnostic way back from the windlass with his multi-meter, at the suggestion of our friend and erstwhile crew Captain Steve Parsons. We hadn’t ever realized before this point that a “partially blown fuse” was a thing. But it is. Not only that, it was OUR thing, as it turned out.

The pic below shows the 500 Amp whopper ANL fuse associated with our windlass. You can see through the window in the middle that it doesn’t look blown, the bridge appears intact. But the multimeter showed a lack of continuity. 

The color variation shows thermal damage to the fuse, which we could tell by comparing it to its spare counterpart of the same age. Stan installed the spare and presto! Back in business, with several lessons learned.

We left Whittier and made our way across the Sound to the charming, funky town of Valdez. Ash succumbed to a nap in the marina after all the exhausting hours spent watching his dad work on the windlass.

Valdez Harbor

As a random intermission, I’ve been asked by a couple of friends lately about kitchen arrangements aboard our boat, given that I love to cook and we both love to enjoy fine dinners. So here are a couple of pictures of our galley:

Above you can see our induction cooktop, which I adore. The small sized oven is perfectly adequate to our needs, and is a combination of conventional with convection, and microwave. Below the oven is a small dishwasher, which I also adore. The roll-top locker to the left and the sliding door lockers behind the cooktop have lots of room for my various appliances and gadgets: food processors large and small, a sous vide circulator, bread machine, coffee bean grinder for French press, and various others.

You can see the robust handles marking our two under-counter refrigerators and one freezer. (We have a chest freezer and a chest refrigerator in the basement, too.) Those countertop lockers that I call “lifty things” are where all our dishes and glassware are stored. Across from the galley on the starboard side (behind where I was standing while taking this pic) are some very generous pantry lockers. I LOVE my galley!

Valdez is the central hub for much of the halibut and salmon fishing that draws tourists to the area in the summers. They have stations on the docks where folks coming off charter boats can clean their catch. And they don’t even care whether you pull up your pants!

Our beautiful Buffalo Nickel at night

From Valdez we visited several lovely anchorages, but left far more to explore next season! 

Cascade Bay (above) was a highlight. You have to enter via a very narrow but well marked channel. We were the only boat. In addition to our own private waterfall view, we watched a black bear and her cubs play on the shore beside us, with salmon visibly crawling up a stream to spawn, and eagles waiting for their share of the fish. You can hike up the hill for another view of the falls. 

Sea otters are ubiquitous.

This guy’s facial expression is everything. A college friend on social media pointed out his resemblance to Wimpy – J. Wellington Wimpy from the Popeye series, whose famous line was something like “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today!”

On our way back out of PWS, we stopped for several nights in Fox Farm Bay to wait out a big blow.

Fox Farm Cove

Then made our way back along the Kenai Peninsula…

… with our last stop in Port Chatham anchorage…

… before landing in front of our friends’ cabin again in Little Tutka Bay across from Homer.

Above, a surprise glorious sunset. That black blob in the lower left of the pic is actually a sea otter, enjoying the same colorful sky I imagine. 

Next season we will get to do a deeper dive of the Kenai and Prince William Sound, and entertain several guests along the way, ending ultimately by September 1 in Juneau. We and the cats leave in less than two weeks for Homer. Time to change gears again from Bellingham to Buffalo Nickel!

8 thoughts on “Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound

  1. Hi Guys,

    This is Debbie and Stephen on Deerfoot II. This was Steve Dashew’s daddy’s favorite boat. She is a 74ft Aluminum Cutter rigged sloop and we are over in Homer Harbor. Our hull is very similar to your hull long and skinny, but we have sails.

    I was aboard Waka down in Ensenada, Mexico your first Buffalo Nickel. Lawrence was a dock friend of ours.

    Please give us a call when you come back to Homer as we would love to have you over for dinner and drinks aboard our boat.

    Thanks

    Debbie and Stephen
    619-565-8827

    1. Absolutely! We fly on April 20, but I imagine with various projects won’t be splashing for a couple of weeks or longer. I think you are in the water in the harbor, near the Salty Dawg? We will call or text you when we are in town!

      1. Super nice visiting. 

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        div>Thank you for your nice wine. 

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        div>Hope to spend more time with you guys. 

        Stephen619-565-8827Debbie954-270-3205DeerfootII

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  2. I love reading your blog. This one had me remembering that Stan once said that cruising was defined as doing boat repair in exotic places. I like Ash’s approach.

  3. I love reading your blog. What great adventures, both scary and beautiful! I was a wreck just reading about your anchor and chain issue.

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